A message to Australia’s future leaders

Simon McKeon

Mr Simon McKeon AO
Chancellor, Monash University

From the moment the Commonwealth Government unveiled its National Innovation and Science Agenda last December, it was clear that 2016 would be a defining year for Australian science.

While it remains to be seen whether the Commonwealth’s aspirations to promote an innovation agenda can survive a reconfigured parliament, the unique role and importance of science for the country’s long term future is incontrovertible. Over coming decades, our economic growth, stability of our workforce and national prosperity will depend on how successfully we are able to advance a culture of scientific research and enterprise.

Australia has quietly cultivated an international reputation for scientific innovation for the better part of a century. It is a reputation that spans the invention of atomic absorption spectrophotometry in the 1950s through to pioneering work in IVF and the Bionic Ear in the 1970s and CSIRO’s instrumental role in the development of wifi technology in the 1990s. Now collaborations in emerging areas of research as diverse as stem cell engineering, gravitational wave detection and quantum computing promise to enhance Australia’s scientific reputation even further.

The economic benefits generated by breakthroughs such as these are immeasurable, encompassing higher international demand for services like higher education in addition to increased export income and employment growth.

But our success in these endeavours is not guaranteed. To maintain a record of excellence in scientific research over coming decades, Australia must strengthen its capabilities in disciplines where it has already established expertise, and be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities for innovation as they emerge. Neither of these goals will be easy to achieve, and doing so will require a new generation of leaders with a commitment to that success.

And the challenges facing future leaders in science are significant.

Over the past several decades, the expectations of government, industry and academia for research that advances discoveries that translate more readily into benefits extending beyond just the research journal or the laboratory have become more insistent. The idyll of the lone scientist conducting research in isolation from the rest of the world is fading. Today’s landscape demands more than ever scientists who are inclusive; who are capable of sharing their vision with others to help ensure that vision is realised.

It also demands leaders who actively seek opportunities to share their successes with their team, while at the same time not shirking responsibility when things go wrong. To be ready to give praise and emphasise accountability equally and as appropriate.

Most importantly, it requires leaders who are capable of meeting the demanding cultural challenges that are inherent in communicating and advocating for the importance of scientific endeavour to the Australian public. In an era of dwindling funding and rising competition for research grants, the importance of networks such as the EMCR Forum in championing scientific research is more important than ever.

I hope this edition of the EMCR Pathways newsletter helps you to stay connected.

Editor’s note: To hear more from Simon McKeon and other great leaders register to attend Science Pathways 2016: Future Leaders.

© 2020 Australian Academy of Science